Star Wars and Continuity

Now that Disney owns Lucasfilm, we've been seeing epochal shifts in how the Star Wars property is handled. JJ Abrams is directing a new film. Two Star Wars games in development were canceled and Lucasarts was shut down entirely. And now, Marvel (another Disney property) will be reclaiming the license for Star Wars comic books from Dark Horse in 2015.

Now, Star Wars canon and continuity has long existed in a curious state, where the films and TV series were the Bible and all other works were apocrypha of dubious "truth." Given the many changes underway, fans are speculating on how continuity will be handled by Disney going forward.

There's a fair amount of enthusiasm for the idea of bringing the entire Extended Universe into legit-canon status, working through and retconning whatever conflicts there are, and in general shaping the sprawling, messy story world that is Star Wars into a strict and rigorous history, where we know what's factual and what is not.

I'd like to argue against this.

In transmedia narrative, we often talk about showing what happens elsewhere once a character walks off the screen (or the page.) In that traditional model, we might see the burning of the Skywalker farm in Episode IV, for example, or Palpatine's behind-the-scenes political machinations.

But this is not the only way to do storyworld or continuity. History itself does not have the rigor we demand from our fiction. In reality, sometimes all we have are biased accounts, sometimes conflicting witness reports, records that may be inaccurate, misleading, second-hand. And mixed in with our history we have myth. Was there a King Arthur in England, or a Robin Hood? Maybe, maybe not. We don't really know.

Star Wars should be like this. We should accept that such an intricate world with so many creators involved will have inconsistencies, and write up such conflicts as the result of bias and the messy process of time. It all happened a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, after all. Who are we to know the ultimate truth?

Now, I recognize I'm voicing a minority opinion, here. Fandoms do tend to love clarity, knowing exactly what happened, so they can draw connections and make conclusions all on their own. Ambiguity is aesthetically displeasing to many of us.

But I think there's a certain beauty in having a messy storyworld, one where myth and fact blur together. And in demanding a concrete truth from a universe like Star Wars, we are robbing ourselves of potentially amazing stories. 

Imagine, if you will, the manifold ways that the relationship between Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo could play out. In one they marry and have twin babies, as in the books. In another, she lays down her life to save him and he spends the rest of his days hunting for vengeance. In still another, a woman from Han's past comes between them, and decades pass before that wound can heal. 

We don't need to know which one is "true." Marvel should know that -- how many reboots and alt-worlds have we seen in comics, after all? Perfect consistency doesn't really matter, shouldn't matter at all, provided what we get out of the bargain are rich, deep stories. Why close the door on them before they've even been told?

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